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ARGENTINA | 19-06-2023 16:27

Morales hits back as Jujuy demonstrators denounce ‘brutal repression’

At least 40 arrests near the northern city of Purmamarca as indigenous, picketers and left-wingers demonstrate against constitutional reform limiting right to protest; Jujuy Governor Morales points finger at the national government for violence and says roadblocks will be broken up.

Tensions have erupted in the northern province of Jujuy after security forces aggressively broke up demonstrations against a recently approved constitutional reform which critics say limits rights of social protest.

Local indigenous communities, picketers and left-wing parties denounced “police repression” against demonstrators near Purmamarca who blocked national routes 9 and 52 over the long weekend.

The provincial government responded forcefully to the move, breaking up roadblocks and deploying both provincial and federal police officers. The first clashes took place on Saturday at dawn, with advances against protesters taking place on at least four occasions. Rubber bullets were fired and tear gas launched.

Dozens were injured in the clashes and around 40 people were arrested over the weekend in total, local media reported. At least 16 were still being held in custody as of Monday midday.

Local government sources denied to the Noticias Argentinas news agency that “repression” had taken place and accused sectors of the national government of fostering the unrest.

"I am not going to allow the national government to take us back to the parallel state and to violence," Radical Governor Gerardo Morales said on Monday in an interview with Radio Rivadavia.

"Everything that the government, Kirchnerism, sectors of the left are installing to misinform and create a climate of chaos and violence is a lie," said the Radical party chairman. 

 

Constitutional reform

Demonstrators in Jujuy are blocking streets and roads and demanding Morales’ immediate resignation, as well as the annulment of the constitutional reform, which was approved by provincial lawmakers in the early hours of June 16.

A new law includes the “prohibition of roadblocks” during protests, rallies blocking freedom of movement and the occupation of public buildings. Local rights NGOs have criticised its promotion.

Roadblocks took place in La Quiaca, Abra Pampa, Humahuaca, Tilcara, Purmamarca, San Salvador de Jujuy, Fraile Pintado and Ledesma, with large numbers of people taking part.

"We were not asking for work or money, nothing like that, we were just asking for our rights as indigenous communities to be respected. We want to assert our rights," said Carmen Benicio, a resident of the Quebraleña community, who was detained on Saturday and released on Sunday.

 "This was a war. It was a shooting. They just started shooting [rubber bullets]. We were playing music and singing and they started [firing] with rubber bullets, with gas, at women who were kneeling on the ground," another local demonstrator told the local El Submarino Jujuy website.

The same outlet reported Monday that a 17-year-old boy suffered a serious eye injury as a result of the police operation after being shot by a rubber bullet. He is said to have lost his sight after undergoing emergency surgery.

Left-wing national deputy Myriam Bregman was among those who denounced “brutal repression by the police of [Jujuy Governor Gerardo] Morales."

The Frente de Izquierda y Trabajadores leader went on to question the arrests of left-wing provincial lawmaker Natalia Morales and a local journalist named Luciano Godoy.

"What is happening is very serious. They arrested my fellow-lawmaker Natalia Morales. From Frente de Izquierda we are repudiating this reform, which was what the people of Jujuy elected us for," she said in a post on social media.

National Human Rights Secretary Horacio Pietragalla Corti, who travelled to the region to speak with protesters, called on Morales to put an “end to the repression" in the province.

Provincial lawmaker Natalia Morales, following her release from custody after arrest, praised the “enormous resistance of the indigenous women and the native peoples of Jujuy in Purmamarca after the repression.”

"The indigenous communities are standing up in defence of their territories, water and against looting. They know that the reform affects their rights," she declared.”

 

Criticism

On Monday, National Public Works Minister Gabriel Katopodis repudiated the “brutal repression" seen in Jujuy, which he said was a result of “basic constitutional rights” being curtailed.

"We repudiate the brutal repression of the government of @GerardoMorales against those who demonstrate peacefully. Thousands of people protesting in the streets and on the roads are beaten and detained by the security forces of the province," he posted on Twitter.

The former mayor of San Martín said that "neither Jujuy nor Argentina should put up with these kinds of decisions curtailing basic constitutional rights.”

Responding to the criticism, Governor Morales accused the national government of “encouraging roadblocks” and fomenting unrest.

“Do you think this is peaceful? Look at some of the background of the peaceful protesters, stop messing around!" the Unión Civic Radical leader wrote on Twitter.

"No to the violence generated by Frente de Todos, Kirchnerismo, La Cámpora, the Left and the piquetero organisations financed by the national government," he declared.

Morales has dismissed criticism that the reform of the provincial constitution limited “rights on social protest,” as a number of human rights groups have warned.

The reform “maintains the right to demonstrate, for which permission is not required as long as it is peaceful and unarmed, and adds an article to establish a law regulating the exercise of rights which are not absolute.”

He remarked: "Our rights cannot affect other rights and what this article states is that the law will regulate the exercise of these rights in compliance with international standards to guarantee the right to demonstrate without criminalising and stigmatising but it prohibits roadblocks, street blockades and the usurpation of public buildings.”

Morales, a possible vice-presidential candidate for the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition, said that the issue of roadblocks and blockades would have to be debated ahead of the upcoming election, calling on Argentina to “resolve the present and have a different future." 

"The country must discuss the issue of roadblocks. It cannot be that the [Avenida] 9 de Julio [in Buenos Aires] is permanently cut off. There is a debate which social organisations and society must have," he said.

In a statement issued on Monday, Amnesty International Argentina said the provincial reform had suffered from "serious procedural problems" and is "incompatible with the rights of indigenous peoples." The NGO called for its immediate suspension and an end to "police repression of demonstrations."


 

– TIMES/NA

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